baseball

Bill Buckner's faith makes a cameo appearance in coverage of 22-year major-leaguer's death

Bill Buckner's faith makes a cameo appearance in coverage of 22-year major-leaguer's death

Ouch!

When you die, imagine your obituary leading with your worst moment.

Enter Bill Buckner, the 22-year major-leaguer who succumbed Monday to a long battle with Lewy body dementia.

This was the opening paragraph from The Associated Press:

BOSTON — Bill Buckner, a star hitter who became known for making one of the most infamous plays in major league history, died Monday. He was 69.

Suffice it to say that the infamous play (as baseball fans know) was not a positive one.

Similarly, the Washington Post got right to the (unfortunate) point:

Former major league first baseman and outfielder Bill Buckner, who won a batting title with the Chicago Cubs in 1980 but was best remembered for the error he committed in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series while playing for the Boston Red Sox, died Monday at 69 after battling dementia.

And this was ESPN’s simple lede:

Bill Buckner, the longtime major leaguer whose error in the 1986 World Series for years lived in Red Sox infamy, died Monday. He was 69.

Is it fair that Buckner’s entire career is boiled down to one error in so many news reports? Nope, says Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who wrote:

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Friday Five: Remembering RHE, exiting Catholics, Pakistani Christian trafficking, fact-checking satire

Friday Five: Remembering RHE, exiting Catholics, Pakistani Christian trafficking, fact-checking satire

This is one of those weeks when I’m putting together Friday Five after not paying a whole lot of attention to the news.

So if I miss something really crucial, blame it on my “bucket list” baseball trip to see my beloved Texas Rangers play the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is the 23rd major-league stadium where I’ve seen a game. Of course, four of those ballparks (old Atlanta, New York Mets, St. Louis and Texas) no longer exist, so I have 11 left on my bucket list. The new Rangers stadium next year will make that 12. 

OK, that’s enough for now, but feel free to tweet me at @bobbyross for more baseball talk.

In the meantime, let’s dive into the (distracted) Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Rachel Held Evans’ untimely death at age 37 was the major headline of the week.

The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey, the New York Times’ Elizabeth Dias, The Atlantic’s Emma Green, Religion News Service’s Emily McFarlan Miller and Slate’s Ruth Graham all covered the sad, sad news of Evans’ passing.

Here at GetReligion, Terry Mattingly wrote a post on the importance of focusing on doctrines, not political choices, in coverage of Evans’ legacy. And Julia Duin voiced her opinion that Evans’ death offered “a rare look at journalistic grief.”

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How do sports scribes go 'inside' the epic Chris Davis slump without asking about his faith?

How do sports scribes go 'inside' the epic Chris Davis slump without asking about his faith?

Sometimes, I wish that baseball meant less to me than it does. Can I get an “amen,” Bobby Ross, Jr.?

When judging levels of sports loyalty, it is absolutely crucial to take into account whether fans stick with their favorite teams during bad times, as well as good. In a way, it’s like going to church. True believers are in their pews or stadium seats during the bad times, as well as the good times.

So I am going to write about Chris Davis of my Baltimore Orioles — again — even though many GetReligion readers could care less about this slugger and his historic slump at the plate. I am going to write about this story — again — because there is an important journalism point to be made.

Here it is: When writing about public figures who are religious believers, you cannot write about what is happening in their hearts and heads (and, yes, their souls) without asking questions about religion.

Consider this ESPN headline atop a story that ran when Davis broke his MLB-record slump at the plate: “How Chris Davis snapped, embraced baseball's most epic oh-fer.”

The key word is “embraced,” which implies that he managed to come to terms with the slump and faced the reality of it. In other words, there is more to this story than taking extra batting practice. Something had to be done at the level of head and heart.

Another ESPN headline, on a different feature, captured the agony of all of this: “ 'I hear the people every night': Inside Chris Davis' 0-for-54 streak.” The key word here is “inside,” as in “inside” the head and heart of the man who is enduring this agony.

So did ESPN pros factor in this outspoken Christian believer’s faith? Did they talk to his pastor? The team chaplain? Did they take faith seriously, as a factor in this man and his struggles?

Wait for it.

Here’s the overture in that first ESPN story that I mentioned, the one with “embraced” in the headline:

BOSTON -- When the longest hitless streak in major league history ended and when the Baltimore Orioles wrapped up their sixth victory of the season with a 9-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox, Chris Davis channeled his inner Rocky Balboa and walked into the visitors clubhouse with his fists above his head, a smile streaking across his face. His teammates prepared a hero's welcome too, banging the walls of their lockers, turning the scene into an impromptu "STOMP" performance. Davis looked around at the joy emanating from his teammates and felt a weight lift off his shoulders.

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Opening Day memories: Was Jackie Robinson's Methodist faith part of his epic life story?

Opening Day memories: Was Jackie Robinson's Methodist faith part of his epic life story?

A lot has been said and written about Jackie Robinson. The baseball great — famous for breaking baseball’s color barrier — was known for many things. Robinson’s athletic abilities, courage in the face of racism and the dignity with which he went about it all remain the focal points.

What is often ignored, and even forgotten, was Robinson’s Christian faith.

This past January 31 marked the day the trailblazing Robinson would have turned 100. He died at age 53, meaning that he’s been gone almost as long as he lived. Robinson’s breaking of baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947 when he donned a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform — that now-iconic No. 42 emblazoned across his back — at Ebbets Field and how his relationship with Branch Rickey, the team’s general manager, forever changed race relations in the United States.

“I think there are different explanations why his faith has been ignored. One of them is that Robinson — unlike Rickey — was private about his religion. It wasn’t something he talked a lot about,” said Chris Lamb, who co-authored a book in 2017 with Michael Long entitled Jackie Robinson: A Spiritual Biography. “The book of Matthew quotes Jesus as telling us to avoid praying publicly. Secondly, Robinson’s significance comes more in his work in baseball and in civil rights and not in religion. That said, he couldn't have achieved what he did without his faith and his wife Rachel.”

The centennial of Robinson’s birth (and the many events associated with the celebration that will culminate in December with the opening of a museum in his honor in New York City) has allowed Americans of all ages to recall Robinson’s great achievements in the diamond — including helping the Dodgers win the 1955 World Series and having his number retired by every Major League Baseball team in 1997 — and the impact he would have on ending segregation and helping to spur the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Robinson died of a heart attack in 1972 at the age of 53.

Robinson’s famous quote — one etched on his tombstone at his Brooklyn gravesite in Cypress Hills Cemetery — reads: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

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Friday Five: Kavanaugh and more Kavanaugh, historic church closing, Indonesia quake, baseball

Friday Five: Kavanaugh and more Kavanaugh, historic church closing, Indonesia quake, baseball

As The Associated Press reports, the U.S. Senate voted 51-49 today to move forward with consideration of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

That means a final vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation could occur over the weekend, the AP notes.

Once again this week, the battle over the court’s future — riveted by Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegation against the judge — had plenty of religion angles.

Look for much more on that as we dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Speaking of Kavanaugh, Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein has an interesting piece out today on how the fight over the judge is dividing his Catholic Church in D.C.

Another compelling angle from a Godbeat pro: The Atlantic’s Emma Green explores why some conservative women are angry about the treatment of Kavanaugh.

Other coverage that we’ve mentioned at GetReligion include Religion News Service’s focus on the Religious Left response to Kavanaugh and how an Oklahoma pastor’s sermon of Kavanaugh gained him not-so-positive notoriety.

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ESPN writer explains what made Dale Murphy special, on and off field, and sort of avoids a ghost

ESPN writer explains what made Dale Murphy special, on and off field, and sort of avoids a ghost

For any baseball fan who remembers Dale Murphy, this is a fantastic read from ESPN the Magazine.

The in-depth piece by Wright Thompson — titled "Where Have You Gone, Dale Murphy?" — makes the case that the former two-time National League Most Valuable Player should be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

That induction would emphasize the fact that the retired Atlanta Braves star did not use performance-enhancing drugs, even though he ended his career in the steroids era.

Thompson writes:

If baseball wants to wash itself clean from steroids, the best way to do it isn't to keep [Barry] Bonds out of the Hall but to let Murphy in. Induct cheaters but also celebrate Dale Murphy for his 398 home runs and for the dozens he did not hit.

While the article is pegged on the Hall of Fame argument — noting that Murphy will be eligible again next year — it's the personal story that makes this such a captivating read.

That story revolves around what a good guy Murphy is. A moral guy. A family guy. Dare I say a religious guy?

ESPN hints that faith might be at play in Murphy's character, as the writer emotionally describes how a generation of boys who grew up within reach of the TBS cable station idolized the Braves' star:

Our letters arrived at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, 50 or more a day for a decade, as Murphy perennially battled Mike Schmidt for the NL home run title and won back-to-back MVP awards, one of four outfielders in baseball history to accomplish that. We read the stories about Murphy's kindness and charity, how he didn't drink or smoke or curse and how he signed every autograph. We imagined meeting him over big glasses of milk and talking about his moonshot home runs. 

A few paragraphs later, readers learn more about the Murphy of present day:

Generation Murph has grown into middle age. We are 35 years removed from his peak as a player. He lives mostly anonymously in Utah with his wife and eight grown children. 

Utah, huh?

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Another faith angle with a Detroit Tigers pitcher: Free Press nails how Matthew Boyd raised his game

Another faith angle with a Detroit Tigers pitcher: Free Press nails how Matthew Boyd raised his game

Apparently, I'm not the only journalist interested in the faith of Detroit Tigers pitchers.

To refresh those who haven't committed all my baseball stories to memory: A few years ago, I interviewed Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris about his baptism in his uniform as a high school player.

Just a few weeks ago, I interviewed a different Tigers pitcher — Michael Fulmer — about the role of faith in his approach to baseball and life, including his offseason job as a part-time plumber.

And now — thanks to my friend Ron Hadfield, one of the world's most devoted Detroit fans — I have come across a feature about the faith of yet another Tigers pitcher: Matthew Boyd.

The recent Detroit Free Press story notes that Boyd has "raised his game."

How'd he do it?

Let's check out the subhead:

Family, faith, fatherhood have helped take Matthew Boyd to a new level over his eight starts for the Detroit Tigers this season

Alrighty. That sounds like a religion story.

Often, we at GetReligion complain about holy ghosts in sports stories. But in this case, give the Free Press credit for its willingness to focus on that angle.

The paper even quotes Boyd's pastor up high:

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Culture War Night at Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City Royals draw criticism for anti-abortion ads

Culture War Night at Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City Royals draw criticism for anti-abortion ads

"Thank you, God, for the Kansas City Royals," my friend Cheryl said on Facebook recently.

Like me, Cheryl is a devoted and long-suffering Texas Rangers fan. Sadly, our team is off to a rotten start this season. But at least the Rangers are doing better -- but just barely -- than the Royals, who have the worst record in the American League. (Except, as my friend Murray will be quick to point out, Kansas City won the World Series in 2015, something Texas never has done.)

But forget that baseball religion angle for a minute. This week, the Royals are receiving a bit of national media attention unrelated to their 25-32 record.

A welcome diversion perhaps? Probably not. Yes, there is a non-baseball religion hook here, too.

It seems that Tuesday turned into a sort of unofficial Culture War Night, as USA Today reports:

A national women's advocacy organization says it will fly a banner over the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, protesting the team’s advertising agreement with an anti-abortion group. The banner will appear before the Royals’ game against the Houston Astros.
The advocacy group, UltraViolet, is calling for the Royals to cut ties with the Vitae Foundation, an anti-abortion group based in Jefferson City, Mo., that has branded ads on video boards at Royals games and is advertising on the team’s radio broadcasts.
The banner, which will read, “ROYALS FANS DESERVE TRUTH — DROP VITAE,” comes as a result of the Royals’ continued affiliation with Vitae.

Since we focus on journalism here at GetReligion, I have three questions about this story. I'll try not to swing and miss, but I can't promise that.

1. Is this really national news?

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Baseball ghostbusters: Digging deeper into the faith of Texas Rangers third base coach who beat cancer

Baseball ghostbusters: Digging deeper into the faith of Texas Rangers third base coach who beat cancer

In the fourth grade, I discovered Topps baseball cards. I’d buy as many I could afford, chewing the crunchy bubble gum inside each 20-cent pack and memorizing the stats of all my favorite players. I eventually sold my card collection, but I remain a passionate fan of Major League Baseball.

In my teen years, my family moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I fell in love with the Texas Rangers. As an adult, I’ve experienced America’s favorite pastime at 19 of the 30 big-league ballparks. I eventually hope to make it to all of them, including the one at the top of my bucket list: Wrigley Field in Chicago.

My work as a journalist has taken me inside clubhouses at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Calif., Comerica Park in Detroit, Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, Minute Maid Park in Houston, Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., and Progressive Field in Cleveland.

Like me, GetReligion's editor, Terry Mattingly, is an avid baseball fan, so we sometimes compete to see which one of us can write the most baseball-related posts with the fewest number of readers. I kid. I kid. 

But seriously, our sports posts (with a few notable exceptions) don't typically go viral. Based on this journalism-focused website's analytics, most of our readers tend to be more interested in holy ghosts tied to politics and the culture wars. However, we believe it's important to keep pointing out God-sized holes in media coverage of college and professional athletics.

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